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As an educator I know first hand what an art it is to teach, and I know first hand how important and powerful it is to launch learning and to foster a learning community right from the start of the school year or start of a new semester. You don’t need me to tell you that this year is a unique one, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t make space for that reality. Students and educators alike have been through some extremely difficult times, and of course we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. 

Inside our free guide ‘The Art of the Start’ you’ll find seven different sections, each one with ready to roll out resources. These seven sections have been designed based on emails we’ve received from educators like you. Today I want to specifically talk about the seventh section which places an emphasis on the power of play. In her Edutopia article, Sarah LaHayne writes the following about play :

“Play is not only foundational for child development but can also help children process and heal from the impact of living through stress, trauma, or grief, including a global pandemic.”

Sarah LaHayne

I think as adult learners we also need to remember how powerful play can be for us. In an NPR interview, Dr. Stuart Brown, head of a nonprofit called the National Institute for Play. gives us a definition of play:

“Play is something done for its own sake,” he explains. “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

Dr. Stuart Brown

This is why I set my alarm early a few days of the week to do a little yoga. For me, yoga has been a wonderful way to play and stay playful. I might not get every pose exactly right, and I may not always be aspiring to become an expert, and that’s completely ok. As a matter of fact, it is probably because I don’t have a strict goal with my yoga that I’m able to focus on just enjoying it for the sake of enjoying it. They call it the yoga practice…you never really master yoga, you constantly are just practicing. I often say the same thing to educators about teaching. They call it the teaching practice…there is no mastery of teaching. We are constantly practicing, finding that balance between the art of teaching and the science of teaching. If we can get into a mindset that this is all just practice, then we allow ourselves to try new things, push ourselves in new ways, and become better at our practice one day at a time, in that mindset we find joy. 

In the academic week, where are we holding space for enjoyment for enjoyment sake? This might be drop everything and read time, it might be a spontaneous game of tag, a student sharing their photos of their new kitten, or an impromptu chat in the hallway.  We have to care about what our students enjoy about being at school, and we have to nurture those moments. School has always been more than about getting from point A to point B in the curriculum. Tell me about some of your strongest memories of being at school, and I bet those moments will have something to do with how a peer or an educator or a subject helped you connect with yourself or others. It has been my experience that students are best able to connect with others when playfulness is valued. And I’m talking about learners of all ages. 

I work with school leadership teams all the time, and I’ve noticed a correlation: the teams that aren’t afraid to be playful, the teams that laugh together are the very same teams who are more productive and are more collaborative. I did a little digging around to see if my lived experience is mirrored in any research, and I found out that in fact it is. Tracy Bower is a contributing author for Forbes, and here’s what her research tells us: 

“Company cultures that allow for play are better able to tap into the best in their employees, and employees themselves can bring more effectiveness into their work.”

Tracy Bower

The Art of the Start guide has a few of our favorite ways to encourage playfulness with learners. As always, we are curious to hear what has worked for you. 

So a new school year is upon us, as today was the first day for students at ISB. I spent the first hour helping new middle school students find their way around the school….what fun. ISB set a new record for the amount of new students this year. A HUGE turn around year with 100s of families leaving and 100s more filling their place. It always makes me wonder what’s going on in the bigger picture that you have this kind of turn around in a year…..interesting….and I have no answer.

As the new year begins though I’m thinking about my job and once again supporting teachers. This is a touchy subject and the reason why I’m putting it out there is to see where everyone else is on this idea.

My job is to support teachers in using technology in their classroom. I don’t have any classes of my own I support full time. But I’m supporting an initiative that we all believe in but isn’t required. It’s not required that my teachers use technology. It’s not required that they rethink how they teach in the era of open access to content. They’re not required to rethink education as they know it. Their job is to teach….and they do a good job at it. We had 100% pass rate of IB diploma students last year….again. Our students continue to get into top colleges and universities around the world and parent feedback continues to come back that we’re doing a hell of a job educating their children. 

So, why do we need to change?

Why do we need to rethink education?

Why do we have to even worry about technology?

and

Why do they have to use me?

 

The answer is they don’t. Some choose to at different times, some are really thinking about the future and where this is all leading and other classrooms I never see the inside of.

I’m here because teachers, at some level, are forced to use technology. E-mail, Moodle, PowerSchool are the three programs that everyone has to use. So yes….I’m need to support the use of these with teachers, but not in learning, not with students, basically so teachers can do their job. 

And I have no problem doing that…..they’re just paying me a lot of money to be an application support person.

So it comes down to working with the willing. Working with those teachers who are thinking about doing things different, thinking about their students, their lives, what they’ve grown up with, and how that might affect them in and out of the classroom. It’s working with teachers who are willing to take risks, to try something new, to be uncomfortable. 

A colleague of mine often refers to us a “used car sales people” and that’s what I feel like we are sometimes. We’re selling a product, and idea, a method that doesn’t need to be used….is not mandated. Sure it’s supported IF teachers decide they want to try it. But at the end of the day they don’t need to.

So we end up with some kids getting 21st Century Skills. Those kids who happen to have teachers who are thinking about searching, finding content, communicating, and using global connections. Other kids, who just so happen to never get the right teacher leave our system not getting those skills. Is that OK? Or is that just the way it is. 

So I work with the willing. Those that ask me for help, those that I team teach with, that we explore new options with. I work with the willing because that’s who wants to work with me…..on a voluntary basis…and that’s really where my job stands. 

I’m here to help

If you want help

If not…that’s OK…I’m here if you need me

Is it OK to only work with the willing? Or is this a school thing?

Photo Credit: Superkimbo

This is something I’m pretty passionate about and something I think most schools don’t fully understand yet. In a socially connected world where communities trump content schools need to continue to monitor and adjust where their community is moving to, what tools are they adopting, and what content they are creating, talking about, and using to connect to each other.

It use to be you only had to worry about your school website

Then it was the wikipedia entry

Then came videos that kids were uploading to YouTube and Myspace

Next came Facebook

Shortly after that Twitter

and now location services (Foursquare, Facebook Places, Gowalla and Google Latitude )

Your school does have a presence on all these sites right?

At the end of last school year I was the only one checking into ISB (Foursquare link) via Foursquare. The Mayorship was all mine! Then somewhere around September I get a notice that I was bumped from being the mayor of our school. A little investigation found out that it was an 11th grade girl at our school. Over the next couple of months we battled it out for the Mayorship…I leave for winter break only to come back and find that Foursquare had taken off at our school.

 

foursquareisb
Click to Enlarge

Seeing that the community was building here it was time to make it official as there were a few different venues floating around for our school. So I followed the steps on Foursquare to claim the venue…a pretty easy process. After I officially claimed the venue for our school I could add information such as the correct address, link to website, link to twitter account, and even offer specials to students. 

I ran a special that if students checked in 5 days in a row I would buy their lunch (attendance taker?). I gave away two lunches in January and then started thinking about other specials you could run for parents, students and the community. You really could have some fun with this. (i.e. Check-ins during sporting event give-aways. Attendance check-ins, daily give-aways…..free lunch from the school to a random person check-in.)

Of course you also need to understand that you can’t control everything…especially location based services like this one. We have the school as the official venue on Foursquare. But kids have gone crazy and you can also find:

ISB Library

ISB Cafeteria

ISB Dance Room

ISB Weight Room

ISB Field B

ISB Field A1

ISB ES Playground

ISB HS Art Room

ISB Tennis Courts

For those school leaders who think they can still control the content of the school…let this list speak for itself. You can’t control where the community goes, what tools they decide to use or not use. All you can do is go with the community and engage them, or at the very least let them know you have a presence there. The worse thing you can do is put your head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist. “We didn’t even know this was happening” isn’t a very good stance when talking to parents or community members. Schools need to become more social-network savvy. It’s time that we create a position in schools to communicate and engage the community where they are at in these growing social-networks. 

The days of having full control over your content is gone! The sooner we realize that the sooner we can move on to finding ways to use these social connections to drive dialog, discussions, and even learning and engagement around our schools.

Other Blog Posts On This Topic

Taking Control of Your School’s Profile: Where to Start

Schools: Take Control or Forfeit your Profile

Who’s Controlling your Profile?

 

Back in Bangkok and still making sense of what happened last week. Two conferences with a total of 13 presentations and a 102.8F fever in between.

The one idea that keeps running through my head is this:

What is the reason we gather Face to Face?

There is a reason we like going to conference, there is a reason why students like coming to school (and it’s not to be by oneself) there is a reason we want students in a class. What is that reason?

What is the reason we gather face to face when content can be found 24/7/365?

What is the reason when research can be done outside face to face time?

What is the reason when reading/listening/gathering/analyzing content can be done outside of school?

What are we doing with face to face time to maximize the learning potential for students?

If we are worried that students are just “skimming the web” for information then what is the face to face time in our classes for?

If we are worried that kids won’t have an opportunity to go deep with knowledge, that things come to easy and to fast. What are we doing with the time we have them in front of us?

If I have every student find the 5 best articles they can on a given topic and bookmark them using Diigo or Delicious, when we get together face to face, what do we do? What is my role as a teacher facilitator?

There is a reason we get together, there is something that online courses, Skype, and all of it can not replace. What is that? And how do we change our classrooms so that is what we are focusing the majority of our time on.

How do we maximize face to face time with students? What is technologies role? What is the teacher’s role?

As usual I come back from conferences with more questions than answers….and that’s a good thing. 🙂